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A gruelling expedition

Published : Sep 27, 2017, 1:09 am IST
Updated : Sep 27, 2017, 1:11 am IST

A.K. Asif’s avant-garde fantasy novel promises to take you on a futuristic spiritual quest with the young Ismael.

Photo for representational purpose only.
 Photo for representational purpose only.

Pakistani author, A.K. Asif, has recently come up with a thrilling tale about a youngster — Ismael — an atheist who sets out on a perilous journey of self-discovery. Set in 2050 New York, the book is titled, Hell! No Saints in Paradise. The story starts with Ismael, a Pakistani-American student, who must return to Pakistan, now in the grip of a brutal fundamentalist government and gain the trust of his estranged father, a prominent extremist in the Caliphate.

About the genesis of the book, Asif says, “On January 4, 2011, the then Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, was assassinated by one of his bodyguards for speaking against the blasphemy law and in favour of a blasphemy-convicted Christian woman, Asia Bibi. It was expected that Islamic scholars or Ulemas would praise the assassination, but what wasn’t expected was the action of the lawyers of the Lahore High Court. Donned in their black suits and ties, they showered the killer with rose petals when he arrived at the court the next day. At the time, I happened to be reading Candide by Voltaire, an 18th-century satirical work on the optimistic approach to the problem of evil.”

Utterly shocked at seeing the killer being showered with rose petals, the author asked himself whether he could, too, create something like Candide in response to the religious extremism of the 21st century. “And do so without having to damn an entire faith? The answer came: unless you try, you wouldn’t know. So I began writing. Since the story deals with the topic of hell and paradise and is satirical in nature, the title must reflect these realities and the story’s basic character, hence the current title. If I say more, I’ll be giving away certain elements of the plot. Best to read the book to appreciate the title,” explains Asif about book’s title.

 Hell! No Saints in Paradise by A.K. Asif Harper Collins pp.356, Rs 599.Hell! No Saints in Paradise by A.K. Asif Harper Collins pp.356, Rs 599.

Talking about why he chose to set his story in the future, he says, “By setting it up in 2050, I was free to explore as far as imagination or inspiration would take me. It was like erecting a giant mirror, three decades from now and letting the present reflect in it for all to see.”

Brought up in Lahore, Pakistan, Asif has been living in the United States since the age of 20. He confesses that he didn’t have to do much research to write this book and that the story, effortlessly, flowed freely.

“Luckily, I didn’t have to do much research given the fact that I was born as a Muslim and my father was steeped in Sufi lore, fables and legends. I grew up with these concepts from early on.The book does touch upon many sensitive topics, but that’s not how I intended it to be. The story, as if it had a life of its own, forced me to write it the way it wanted to be told. Initially, I resisted, thinking it was taking me to some really wild places, but my resistance would prove futile at every turn of the plot. So I gave up and let the story take me where it wanted to go.”

Asif, who is currently working on his next novel, loves nature and tries to spend as much time as possible exploring new places. “I have done some serious hiking, exploring the northern areas of Pakistan. I am a reasonably good photographer and I love to read good literature from all over the world whenever I find time,” he concludes.

Tags: governor of punjab, hell! no saints in paradise